State of the state ‘resilient,’ Dunleavy says as he urges Alaska Legislature to take action on PFD formula and other issues

JUNEAU — In his fourth State of the State address to the Alaska Legislature, Gov. Mike Dunleavy urged lawmakers to overcome deadlock and act on several of his legislative priorities, including land reform and a new formula for the Permanent Fund dividend.

“Our motto isn’t ‘North to the Next Election’ or ‘North to Gridlock,’” he said. “Our motto is ‘North to the Future.’”

Alaska governors traditionally deliver an annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature, and Dunleavy said in a 54-minute speech Tuesday night that the state of Alaska is “resilient” as it recovers from disasters and “hostile policies coming from Washington, D.C.”

Dunleavy delivered the speech in person at the Capitol in Juneau. Last year’s was delivered remotely because of COVID-19.

In his speech, Dunleavy used the stories of individual Alaskans to offer reasons for optimism and his vision for the future of Alaska. He mentioned Olympic gold medalist Lydia Jacoby and Miss America Emma Broyles, but the longest applause of the night was for Carley Rose Kelly, who overcame domestic violence and drug abuse and now helps at-risk and homeless youths in Wasilla.

The vision included in the speech — and in the governor’s budget, introduced before the start of the legislative session — includes more funding for the University of Alaska, more Alaska medical school students, more funding for public safety, a renewed push for the trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline and greater self-reliance in agriculture and other products.

“The Alaska I see in the future is self-sufficient and secure in its energy, its food supply, and other critical sectors; an Alaska that is healthier and safer; an Alaska that is prosperous with opportunities for all,” he said.

House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, called the governor’s speech a “huge transition” from his first year in office, when Dunleavy proposed vast budget cuts. He noted the governor’s praise for the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which the Dunleavy administration had considered privatizing.

“It’s taken the governor a few years to realize that when they’re working with the Legislature, we’re better off,” Tuck said.

Dunleavy castigated federal policies that have limited oil and gas leasing on federal lands here.

“At every turn and since day one of the Biden administration, this hostility has been perfectly clear. They don’t care about Alaska, and they don’t care about you,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, criticized that digression, pointing out that the governor failed to mention that Biden-endorsed programs are one of the main reasons that Alaska may have a balanced budget this year and is in position to pay a Permanent Fund dividend in line with the governor’s thinking.

He also noted that the governor failed to mention his new push to change Alaska’s elections laws and didn’t mention Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who sat behind Dunleavy and is retiring from public office after almost 40 years.

The governor’s speech arrives 4 1/2 months into his reelection campaign, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said he hopes the governor’s speech is “more than just election-time politics.”

Dunleavy said he wants the Legislature to advance bills that would distribute more state land to Alaskans and a proposal to set a new reliable formula for the Permanent Fund dividend.

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the difference between an election-year campaign speech and a serious policy move is in the follow-up.

For the past two years, lawmakers have criticized Dunleavy for being physically absent from the Capitol during the legislative session and for failing to negotiate with lawmakers to advance his priorities.

“The test is going to be: How serious is that vision, and is the administration going to put the work in and be in this building?” Micciche said.

Read the full text of the speech.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.